by Chiara Viscomi, MA, LMFT (#104851)
Anxiety comes in different forms—sometimes, it can feel like low grade but constant worry buzzing in the background. Other times, you might be caught off guard by a sudden panic attack. Or, you might regularly deal with a phobia, such as feeling anxious in confined spaces like elevators.
It’s certainly a good idea to have tools to help you manage anxiety as it’s happening in the moment (like deep breathing or grounding and orienting). But did you know that it’s also a good idea to instill daily habits as part of an ongoing anxiety-management plan? It’s true. By incorporating healthy habits into your everyday life, you can help your mind and body to become less stressed, more resilient, and better able to cope with anxiety when it comes up. Read on for 6 daily habits to help you to better manage anxiety.
- Curb your caffeine intake. Drinking your morning cuppa may feel like a tradition you can’t imagine parting with. Unfortunately, though, caffeine can trigger or mimic anxiety symptoms, such as increased heart rate, digestive difficulty, and restlessness, according to nutritional psychiatrist Uma Naidoo, M.D. So it might be worth experimenting with cutting down and seeing how you feel.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids isn’t just important for physical health; it’s critical for mental health, too. Stress can cause the body to become dehydrated. The opposite is true, too, as dehydration can put stress on the body. When the body is even slightly dehydrated, it releases cortisol, a stress hormone that plays a role in mood and fear. So be sure to keep your water bottle close by and take regular swigs throughout the day.
- Keep blood sugar levels stable. When blood sugar levels get too low, the body starts pumping out adrenaline and cortisol, which can set the stage for anxiety. Further, sugary foods and drinks can create a rollercoaster effect of a sugar high followed by a nasty crash. This, in turn, can mimic or worsen anxiety symptoms. If you deal with anxiety, keep blood sugar levels on an even keel by eating nutritious, balanced meals and snacks regularly, recommends physician Susan Biali Haas, M.D. Also, Dr. Haas says it’s best to avoid sugary foods and drinks—so be sure to reach for a piece of fresh fruit instead of a handful of candy.
- Practice 4-7-8 breathing (aka the “Relaxing Breath”). Developed by holistic physician and author Andrew Weil, M.D., 4-7-8 breathing is a simple breathing technique based on yogic breathwork. It induces a state of relaxation very rapidly, partly because the outbreath is longer than the inbreath. See Dr. Weil’s website [https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/] for more information and a tutorial video on how to do this technique. According to Dr. Weil, a consistent daily practice of 4-7-8 breathing can dramatically help with managing stress and anxiety, as well as improve sleep and digestion. Dr. Weil recommends using the technique at least twice per day and never doing more than 4 breath cycles at one time for the first month. After the first month, if you’re comfortable, you can take it up to a maximum of 8 breath cycles at one time, says Dr. Weil. Check out his video at the link above for more tips on how to do this easy but powerful technique.
- Check your posture and breathing. Do you tend to slouch forward and breathe shallowly (from your upper chest instead of your lower abdomen)? If so, this may be increasing muscle tension and making it harder for you to breathe deeply and get enough oxygen. Further, this pattern sends a message to the brain to be in “fight or flight” mode (the state that activates feelings of anxiety). Try setting a (gentle!) alarm on your phone or watch to check in with your posture and breathing hourly to make sure that you’re sitting straight and breathing from your lower abdomen, which sends “rest and digest” mode (i.e., relaxation) messages to your brain.
- Create a daily relaxation ritual. Carving out time every day to completely relax, even if it’s just for a few minutes, helps to train your mind and body to relax more easily. Plus, a daily relaxation ritual can help to remind you of your intention to make anxiety management a part of your daily life. Spend a few minutes journaling to plan a relaxation ritual that works with your schedule and that feels good to you. For instance, if you only have 5 minutes to spare in the morning before work, can you light a candle and do a 5-minute meditation with an app like Calm or Insight Timer? Or can you take a nightly bath with lavender oil to wind down before bedtime? Or how about following a 15-minute progressive muscle relaxation video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86HUcX8ZtAk] after lunch? Get creative and experiment with different rituals to see what works best for you. Consistency is key—the more consistent you are with setting aside time for daily relaxation, the more you can expect to see lasting results.
Managing anxiety isn’t only about de-escalating it in the moment when it rears its head. It’s also about creating daily habits that support your mind and body in creating more overall well-being, relaxation, and resilience. Try introducing these 6 habits into your daily life and notice both the immediate and cumulative effects of having a regular anxiety-management routine.